From snowboarding to superyachts

Conor Feasey
By Conor Feasey January 19, 2023 17:45

From snowboarding to superyachts

From snowboarding in the Bavarian Alps to running one of the world’s largest superyacht brokerages, Northrop & Johnsons’ president and chief operating officer (COO), Daniel Ziriakus took an off-piste route into superyachting. With a background in marketing and an unconventional outlook on sales and charter, Ziriakus uses automation and data to get results.

“When I first started in this industry, it still felt very Mom-and-Pop and the processes were very manual. Bringing our company towards automation and digitisation changed everything,” he tells Superyacht Investor.

We sell and charter boats, but when you really look at it and drill down to its core, we are actually a marketing company and a data company.” 

A lot has changed since Ziriakus (pictured)  returned to Northrop & Johnson in 2014 as COO after a short hiatus at Camper & Nicholson. But it was on the German ski slopes where his journey to the broker’s Fort Lauderdale headquarters began.

“I grew up near a little lake in the middle of the Alps just south of Munich. I was all about cold weather and snowboarding, which is pretty far from yachting,” he says. After finishing high school in Australia, he moved to the US to finish his university studies. “I then started my own marketing agency and successfully exited this venture within only a few years as we were taken over by a larger advertising group.”

It was here that Ziriakus had his first introduction to superyachting. “Patrick Coote, who is now the MD of Europe here at N&J, walked in to discuss a global rebrand for Fraser Yachts where he was the global marketing director at the time.” After the initial pitch round to secure the account, Ziriakus was invited to move to Fraser to help facilitate the rebrand in-house. “And that’s how I fell into this industry, 16 years ago.”

After completing his MBA at the University of Miami, Herbert Business School Ziriakus left Fraser and joined Northrop & Johnson as marketing director. “When I first joined, the company was very small, but I always had an affinity with [chairman] Kevin Merrigan and the culture here,” he says.

But his first tenure did not last long. “I only stayed for about a year and a half because it was hard to get anything done. The company was owned by various groups through franchise agreements, and it was hard to find consent during that time.

Ziriakus left for the French Riviera and joined Camper & Nicholson in Monaco to head its global marketing team. A few years later in 2014, Merrigan made him an offer he couldn’t refuse at the Palm Beach Boat Show. “He said: ‘I’ve mulled your business plan over for the past few years. We’ve addressed previous concerns and I want you to come back to N&J as a chief operating officer and execute that plan.’”

Since then, the company has grown 10-fold. “Although we’ve grown, we managed to keep the culture and it is super creative here. There is sort of an ad agency feel that I have always enjoyed.”

After gaining equity in the firm, Ziriakus became president and facilitated its sale when Merrigan decided to sell. “I was in touch with quite a few potential investors and then I found MarineMax,” he says. “I flew up upstate to Clearwater, with my little pitchbook in 2019 and by 2020, we had sold the company. That was an exciting time in my life. It was the biggest deal I had done to that date.”

Not only has it been the best few years for Northrop & Johnson and its parent company MarineMax, but the whole industry, says Zirakus. “It was a positive time for anything that floats,” he adds. “MarineMax had a historic Fort Lauderdale Boat Show in 2022.”

During the last fiscal year ending September 30th 2022, MarineMax reported record sales of $2.3bn, up 12% from 2021. It also had record fourth-quarter revenue, increasing by 16% to about $537m. In terms of profit, MarineMax made about $198m in net income.

Despite being instrumental in selling the company, Ziriakus says he is most proud of how his team at Northrop & Johnson has developed the business. Particularly moving the firm from an analogue and traditional style of operation to a fully digitally integrated firm.

Led by Ziriakus, Northrop & Johnson’s team now uses business intelligence software, involving data analytics to create databases for brokers and charter agents. This integrated database tracks clients in real-time and enables brokers to keep track of their clients’ preferences and also tracks new prospective buyers.

“New client acquisitions accounted for about 20% of global revenue in 2021 directly from marketing that year,” he says. “Brokers are still working with referrals a lot, but the amount of revenue being pushed into our company purely because of marketing is huge. So, data is incredibly important.” 

The Florida resident also says the data shows the boom is winding down. “There’s still good demand for sales though. It’s not that it’s slowing down where it will be negative for the industry. People are just a little bit more realistic and demand becoming more stable,” he says. “There was a time when we would launch a listing on the market and have three buyers for it within a few weeks.” Now brokers have to work a little bit harder to secure the sale.

“In December, we previously spoke about how charter had dropped off. Since then, charter at N&J has bounced back with a vengeance, as much as 25% up from last year,” he continues. “As for 2023, typically there is a lull between the holiday season and the end of April. This year, we are seeing a pretty stable deals in our pipeline for charter throughout.” Although it is by no means record-breaking, he notes that it is still up on pre-pandemic levels.

Ziriakus’ career is defined by pushing the boundaries in marketing the use of data analytics and business intelligence technology. These tools have enabled Northrop & Johnson to grow to 10 times the size it was when he first joined. “The biggest challenge was showing brokers that have been doing this for 30 years how valuable this is, for them and the industry,” he says. “As for 2023, the data shows that summer is already setting up nicely. It may not beat last year, but we sure aren’t stopping any time soon.”

Conor Feasey
By Conor Feasey January 19, 2023 17:45